Straight Shooting on Gun Control
I would urge moderation to Abigail Kohn's enthusiasm ("Straight Shooting on Gun Control," May) in assuring us that the Second Amendment is safe. There is too much evidence to the contrary. Although in the 1700s Americans enjoyed civilian ownership of .50-caliber rifles, today we find ourselves in the preposterous situation of seeing these rifles banned or facing potential bans in several states.�
Wendy Kaminer's nonsense, however, takes the cake. She claims the National Rifle Association (NRA) "is not only a gun rights organization"; it allegedly promotes the GOP's line on issues "having nothing to do with guns," attacking the U.N., John Kerry, trial lawyers, Tom Daschle, and Clintonomics.
Nothing to do with guns? The U.N. fights gun ownership on a global scale. John Kerry never met an anti-gun bill he didn't like, including a plan to sue gun makers out of existence, which is where the trial lawyers come in. And Daschle and Clinton presided over the most viciously anti-gun administration in the history of the Republic.
James J. Jentes
Dingmans Ferry, PA
After likening gun owners to survivalists and David Koresh, Wendy Kaminer concludes that civilian armed resistance to a modern state is doomed to failure. This argument ignores the reality of insurrection. For a government to be toppled, two things must happen: It must be isolated, and it must lose its legitimacy. Isolation occurs when it is no longer safe for officials to move freely among the populace. Loss of legitimacy follows when government institutes policies that suspend basic rights in order to protect its officials against the general population. This places the police and military against the people in the name of order. Since the police and military are generally drawn from the "common" people in revolt, their sympathies can be turned to support replacing the government. That is the force multiplier that makes overthrow possible.
If private possession of weapons isn't a line of protection against a tyrannical government, why do all tyrannical governments ban them? Why do we want to confiscate them from the terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq? The answer is that a few armed and determined citizens can destabilize a government's ability to serve its single most important function, security. If it fails in that, the government falls to those who can meet this test.
Thomas M. Michaels Jr.
In criticizing gun owners' reluctance to support any criminal justice policy addressing guns, Abigail Kohn cites the early success of the Harvard-led Boston Gun Project and asks, "Is [Wendy] Kaminer the only one to recognize this point?" Well, no. Harvard researcher David Kennedy got the NRA's informal approval before starting the project, and it was officially and repeatedly praised by the NRA after it began achieving some beneficial results.
Paul H. Blackman
Thomas Szasz Takes on His Critics
I appreciated Jacob Sullum's thoughtful and generally balanced review of Szasz Under Fire ("Thomas Szasz Takes on His Critics," May). But it is critical to distinguish Szaszian claims about the nature of "disease" from claims regarding the appropriate medical, legal, and social response to disease.
Citing my example of migraine headaches as a medical condition diagnosed almost exclusively on the basis of the patient's subjective reports, Sullum objects that "migraine sufferers are not treated against their will." Neither are most patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder--at least, most are not treated under some kind of court-ordered mandate or commitment. If one of the symptoms of migraine were, say, severe self-mutilation, does anyone seriously believe that involuntary commitment would not at least be considered for a migraine patient who refused admission to a hospital?
Sullum finds disingenuous my claim that commitment decisions are ultimately judicial, not psychiatric. But most psychiatrists have been involved in many cases in which their petition for commitment was flatly turned down by the judge. Moreover, such petitions may also be brought to the court by police officers, next of kin, other physicians, psychologists, social workers, or even "interested parties."
Sullum wrongly asserts that psychiatric diagnoses "generally imply that the 'patient' either does not properly understand his own interests or is not capable of acting on them" and that therefore "the threat of involuntary treatment always hangs in the background." Providing a psychiatric diagnosis--even a serious one, such as schizophrenia--categorically does not entail a claim that the patient does not understand his own interests or is in some pervasive way "incompetent."